Since there isn’t much written these days on Vince Russo’s return to WWE, I had no choice but to dig into the archives.
So this week we go back to an interview with Russo conducted by Ben “If You Respected Me Before, You Surely Won’t Now” Miller from 1999. Miller has written good articles in his career, but this piece isn’t one of them. He does press Russo with good points and arguments, but Russo eats him alive and Miller’s comebacks were weak. Luckily for Miller, Russo is such an ass that his own comments are enough to make him look like a fool WITHOUT any comebacks.
This interview was conducted on September 30, 1999 and originally appeared on Wrestleline.com.
Before printing the interview, Miller states this:
“To this day I still believe that the praise I gave Russo while I wrote for Wrestleline in the form of a column that preceded this interview and the interview itself played a part in WCW deciding to hire Russo as the savior of their company.”
And he’s PROUD of this? He ADMITS this? Russo kills the last traditional wrestling company left in America, and Miller brags that he made it all possible? That’s like saying you’re the person who convinced Eric Bischoff to fire Steve Austin in 1995 and not bring him back.
“Vince Russo is one of the three men most responsible for the astronomical growth of the WWF over the past few years.”
Whoa now, stop there. Who are the other 2 guys? And since he’s stating Russo was one of the three, I should ask, who were the other THREE guys, since Russo certainly was not among them? The people responsible for the astronomical growth of WWF are numerous, and I’m sure Russo did play a role in that. But top 3? Austin, Rock, and McMahon have those top 3 spots locked up.
Miller asked Russo about how he got his start in the wrestling business, and here was his answer:
“So sure enough, what happened was John Arizzi came into my store one day and he was looking for sponsors for his radio show, and me knowing that it was only a matter of time before my doors were going to be closed, I gave John some advertising money, and that’s how I got into the fold with Arizzi, and from there one thing led to the next.”
This also explains why Arezzi has disappeared from the wrestling world. If I were the one who got Russo in this business, I’d hide in embarrassment too.
Russo comments on the times when he was a lowly WWF Magazine editor.
“I used to do fantasy booking, and I used to come up with my own angles and my own ideas in the magazine basically to entertain myself because I hated the product that we were putting out.”
I agree that the product sucked at the time. But it was worlds better than the Russo WCW product we’d be subject to later that year.
“One of the first big angles that I did, that I thought was really successful was the night that Shawn Michaels collapsed in the ring.”
I did think that was an effective angle. About 10% of the audience understood it, though.
“I also had a real good relationship with Pat Patterson.”
Is that the sort of sentence you want to be quoted as saying?
“Not many people know this, at that time I was also contacted, and I also had a conversation with Eric Bischoff.”
Oh my God, thank GOODNESS Eric came to his senses and didn’t hire Russo back then. If he had, there wouldn’t have been that killer WCW run in the late 90s that gave us some awesome TV for 2 years. Of course, Russo AND Eric did eventually book WCW together… and killed it faster than anyone else ever could have.
“I’ve got to really give Bill Watts the credit for giving me my break.”
What a strange business. When you think of one person who has the biggest possible difference in wrestling philosophy from Russo, the 2 names that come to mind are Bill Watts and Jim Cornette. It just makes no sense. Actually, given Russo’s Archie Bunker-like comments that you’ll read later in the article, it makes perfect sense how those 2 got along so well.
“I’m the kind of guy that if I’m working for a company and I know I can help and I’m not getting that opportunity, I can’t sit around you know?”
I hope this happens this time, and Russo quits WWE. I can only hope.
“So sure enough, I got to the meeting, and he’s got … I can’t remember everybody, but I know Shane was in there and Cornette was in there, and Prichard, and Ross, and Patterson, I don’t know who else, and Vince had the WWF Magazine in his hand. Now I’m sitting right there, and basically, he took that WWF Magazine, threw it down on the table, and says, ‘This is what our product on television needs to be.’”
I can just imagine the last big WWE meeting. McMahon, Heyman, Shane, Stephanie, Hayes, Brian, etc are all in a room. McMahon plays a tape of WCW Nitro from 2000 with the Nitro Girls fighting each other, Judy Bagwell in a prominent role, David Arquette as champion, and the Harris brothers as main eventers. McMahon grabs the videotape, throws it down on the table, and says, “This is what our product needs to be!”
Russo: From that point on, I’ve been writing television.
Miller: Excellent. So you head up the writing committee right now, don’t you?
Ben seems star struck and obviously taken in by this New Yorker. “Excellent,” he says. Part of me forgives Ben because in ’99, a lot of us were fooled into thinking Russo had talent. But he went and re-posted this embarrassing interview? As long as people have such horrendous foresight, my website will have an endless supply of material to goof on.
And I love this sequence here… Miller asks Russo about the WWF IPO and when it will be happening.
“I have no date … to be honest with you, on shit like that – concerning business – I try not to get involved at all.”
So just after Russo states that he knows nothing about the business side of wrestling, Miller asks this immediately afterwards:
“Ok. One of the things that came from it though, and maybe you would know about this, because you interact with the wrestlers, is the fact that the wrestlers are making 12% of the WWF gross compared to 53% that’s in collective bargaining agreements in NBA or NFL contracts, do the wrestlers feel slighted by that?”
Such a follow-up question is worthy of Larry King. “Maybe you would know about this,” he says. Hello!! He just got done telling you he doesn’t concern himself with the business side of things (nor should he, his job was to write, not negotiate contracts), and you ask him a business question. I love it! Russo wants to say, “What are you, some sort of idiot?” But instead politely says,
“Well again, I can only tell you that I do not get involved in business… I don’t get involved in those areas, because I choose not to.”
And here is Ben’s back-peddling.
“I see. All you have to go on is when you’re in my position what you read in newsletters, read on the internet … you know where I’m coming from?”
Keep diggin’ that hole, Ben.
Here’s an interesting question and answer, if only because it foreshadowed Russo’s departure weeks after this interview was conducted.
Miller: So how many hours per week do you spend writing the TV? Is this like an 80-hour workweek?
Russo: No question.
I agree that workload is ridiculous and I don’t blame Russo for burning out. In fact, I question Russo’s desire to go back to WWE given the workload that awaits him. My beef is with McMahon, who brings this upon his writing team. If they stopped writing those stupid skits, which no one wants to see, and stopped with all the lame comedy, there wouldn’t be this need to write all that material. It’s simple: put matches on TV, and help the guys with promo’s. Help the guys build rapport with the fans. Book clean finishes. Just lay out simple storylines to book and build. If you have trouble, consult with guys who know the business like Heyman, Cornette, or Michael Hayes. The key word is SIMPLE. What is it about this concept that is so difficult to comprehend??
This exchange is the most ironic of all. Miller asks if WWE has ever thought about teaching a class warning the new guys about the pitfalls of the business (drugs, groupies) and how to avoid them.
“I don’t really think so. I think we’re very, very careful about the type of individuals that we choose to come work for us.”
In late ’99 I believe the WWF was much more cautious about these things than they are now. Back then, they didn’t NEED to hire stars with problems, because they were selling out arenas and drawing ratings in the 6.0 – 7.0 range. Now, things are much different. Russo’s statements above, in light of the Hall disaster, are really scary.
Things get really wacky when Miller asks Russo about Dave Meltzer.
“The thing that just bothers me, primarily about Dave Meltzer, I just feel he thinks he’s better than everybody else. I think he tries to talk down on people like he knows everything, and the reality of the situation is that Dave Meltzer doesn’t know shit. Because all Dave Meltzer’s information is second hand information, and whoever is giving him that information is putting their little spin on it, and whereas you know – me – I’m there! I know what’s going on. I’m behind the scenes.”
It is true that much of the information is second-hand, but how could it not be? But Russo’s reaction is typical Russo. He avoids the facts and can’t respond to criticism. The fact is, his tenure atop WCW was an abysmal failure in every possible way in every facet of business. Dave knows wrestling history better than pretty much anyone else, and if Russo had clue #1 about the wrestling business, he wouldn’t have been the failure he was. Russo tries to paint the picture that his ideas saved WWF. While he did contribute some good ideas, he had 100 shitty ideas for every good one he had. In WWF, McMahon was there to edit out Russo’s crap. In WCW, no one edited his mess, and the result was for all to see. Meltzer may report second-hand info, but there’s no way he’d have made mistakes the way Russo did in WCW. There’s no way the kids playing at my local park would’ve made the mistakes Russo did.
By the way, weeks later Russo was on Wrestling Observer Live saying what a fan he was of the Observer. Go figure.
Miller asked him about possibly using some concepts from Japan or Mexico, and Russo went off it an anti-foreigner tirade. These comments are eerily similar to Bill Watts’ comments in that Torch interview before WCW hired Watts. Just read this rant:
“I’m going to tell you something right now that you will absolutely not agree with, but I’ve been a wrestling fan my whole life and I will live and die by this – it is hard enough, believe me I write this shit, it is hard enough to get somebody over. You will never ever, ever, ever, ever see the Japanese wrestler or the Mexican wrestler over in American mainstream wrestling. And the simple reason for that is, even myself, I’m an American, and I don’t want to sound like a big bigot or a racist or anything like that, but I’m an American … if I’m watching wrestling here in America, I don’t give a shit about a Japanese guy. I don’t give a shit about a Mexican guy. I’m from America, and that’s what I want to see.”
Where do I begin? Like I said, Russo hung himself with those comments. What’s strange is that the angle that carried WWF for all of 1997 and helped rejuvenate business was the Canada vs. USA angle. Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith were not Americans, so why did the fans care about them? Why did Great Muta get so over with NWA fans in 1989? Why did Juventud vs. Misterio matches do double the ratings WWF did with American wrestlers? Sammy Sosa? Oscar de la Hoya? San Jose and LA sold out in ’93 for AAA? Jennifer Lopez? Bruno Sammartino? Jackie Chan? Bruce Lee? Arnold? Jimmy Snuka? The list is endless of ethnic stars who have made it big in pop culture. To ignore that segment of the audience shows Russo’s incredible ignorance to an unbelievable degree.
Has Russo looked at the demographics for this country? This is definitely America, and we have a diverse population here. Of course the biggest example is the ROCK for crying out loud. Limit your stars and your product, and you limit your audience.
“But I’m not talking so much about the fact that you would have to use the guys from Japan, I’m just saying, two guys who I think are good wrestlers, maybe D’Lo Brown and Jeff Jarrett, who maybe don’t have the interview skills or the charisma of a Rock or Steve Austin, but if you put them out there in longer matches where they could show their in ring talent.”
Ben just doesn’t get it. D’Lo Brown vs. Jarrett would be death for ratings. Actually, Jarrett vs. anyone is death for ratings. Jarrett has little charisma, as does Brown. Both are undeniably good workers. Such a match would work on Nitro in ’97 or in ECW in ’94. Those were wrestling audiences. The WWE doesn’t have a wrestling audience, unless they do shows in Canada. What Ben doesn’t get is that WWE fans react to good matches only when they’re familiar with the performers. Old school ECW/WCW fans react to good matches regardless of who is involved.
What Russo and WWE don’t get is that some performers with lower levels of charisma and speaking ability NEED good matches to get over. WWE fans aren’t in the state of mind to have patience for longer wrestling matches with unknowns or bland performers. They’re in the state of mind to laugh at Rikishi’s ass. That’s why the NWA invasion angle flopped in WWF in ’97 to dead crowd heat. Such an angle in ECW Arena would go gangbusters. WWE’s job is to push the wrestling ability of certain guys in order for them to get over. They did this with the Hardys and Edge/Christian in ’99, and they got over. They stopped doing it, and few have gotten over since.
Ben then asks Russo about the possibility of 12-14 minute matches on TV.
Russo: There is no way on television —
Miller: Not on television. I mean more PPV, and on television it would 6-8 minutes. I don’t think matches on television outside of the main event should go more than 8 minutes.
Why is there such a stigma over longer matches? Benoit and Bret Hart did a long match on Nitro shortly after Owen’s death and got tons of positive feedback. Granted, that is partly because it was a rarity. That only proves that things in SMALL DOSES can get over. Instead, they throw a million angles and DQ’s at us. Why can football, basketball, and baseball all air long games, but wrestling can’t air long matches? It’s not because of a short attention span. It’s because the wrestling matches need to be GOOD and feature guys who fans CARE about. Build a more hardcore base of serious wrestling fans, and you can do those longer matches AND avoid those huge dips in business that result from fickle fringe fans.
Russo: A couple of years ago when I wasn’t writing the PPVs, and we just really started this trend with the way the business is now, we would have 15, 20, 25 minute matches, because it was the PPV, 5 minutes in, people were sitting on their hands.
Miller: That’s true.
Ben is such a sheep. No, it ISN’T true. They were sitting on their hands because they were watching 20-minute matches with the Smoking Gunns. Give them Shawn Michales vs. Mick Foley for 20 minutes, and they’d react. Fans won’t react to long OR short matches if they involve people they don’t care about. Give them characters who are compelling, and they’ll react.
“I watch everything that I can. I’ve never watched Mexican or Japan, because I don’t give a shit. I live here, that’s all I care about.”
There it is, folks. “I’ve never watched Mexican or Japan, because I don’t give a shit. I live here, that’s all I care about.” Jesus, no WONDER he and Watts got along so well. Can you imagine the head booker of your promotion saying that? What about being good at your job and studying other styles and expanding your knowledge? Such close-mindedness shows why Vince’s ratings are spiraling nowhere fast. Meanwhile, Eric Bischoff went around the world and found guys like Chris Benoit, Ultimo Dragon, Rey Jr, Juventud, Psicosis, etc and kicked WWF’s ass with “non-American” guys against WWF’s “American guys” (but WCW later died because of incompetent management). Meanwhile, the Olympics draw these huge ratings with talents comprised of nothing but foreign countries. Meanwhile, Antonio Pena drew record houses by utilizing talents from all over the world in AAA. Meanwhile, WWF sells out arenas in Japan. Can you imagine if Antonio Inoki or Baba said, “I don’t care who wrestles in America, I don’t give a shit, I live here in Japan.” Then they could’ve kissed the millions of dollars in business that Brody, the Funks, Snuka, Vader, Hogan, Road Warriors, Hansen, Williams, Gordy, and Steiners all brought in.
There is your head booker, making a complete ass of himself. This is the only business where the more inept you are, the bigger the failure you are, the more chances you will get to run and book a major wrestling company.
“All that I am trying to do from a television-writing standpoint is give the masses what they want. Now, I’m not saying give the smart wrestling fan what they want, I’m saying give the masses, and that’s my job.”
So that’s why he did all those angles booked for internet fans? Like Bischoff telling Sid, “What’s a matter Sid, no scissors?” that is lost on 99% of the people watching?
“Don’t get me wrong, I love to see a good wrestling match, but my job is … I get paid to give the people what they want, and whether I agree or disagree with them is not my job.”
You love to see a good match, yet you don’t give a shit about Mexico or New Japan? So am I right or wrong, Vince? Help me out. What indication were you ever given that the people want to see David Arquette, the Harris twins, Oklahoma, and David Flair? Did I miss something?
This next statement is something I think even Miller himself is embarrassed he said:
“One thing people have been saying, and I thought this myself, is that it’s moved more from athletic competition to like a male soap opera and practically it’s company line if you listen to interviews with Vince McMahon, but soap operas generally have a short lifespan as far as remaining extremely popular, are you guys concerned with that fact?”
OK I think Miller has officially lost his mind. Soap operas have short life spans?? And how can he say wrestling has moved to being a soap opera? It ALWAYS has been. Look at Watts. Look at late 80s WWF.
Russo: Well a couple of things … first of all, I don’t know how you can say that, because I think General Hospital has been on the air for like 200 years.
Miller: Yeah, on the air is one thing, but I’m talking about phenomenal ratings that the WWF has had.
So Ben, where is your careful analysis of the ratings of “General Hospital” over the past 20+ years?
Russo: I gotta tell you, it’s all in the storyline.
Miller: As long as they stay good, you think the public stays interested?
Jeez Ben, ya think?
Miller: I totally agree with you about the Japanese and Mexican thing, and I hope you don’t get branded a bigot for saying that. I think it’s the same thing as the McGwire and Sosa thing, where it’s just more patriotism than anything else.
HUH???? I’m losing more respect for Miller after each and every question. He AGREES on the Japanese/Mexican thing, and Russo isn’t a bigot for saying those things? Who is nuttier, McMahon for re-hiring Russo, or Meltzer for hiring Ben Miller?
Russo: It really is, I swear to god. When I was a kid watching wrestling, how am I supposed to care about a guy whose name I can’t pronounce? And I’m not being a smart ass. Like I said, it’s hard enough to get an American over, you’re going to get a Japanese and a Mexican over that an American can relate to? Even Rey Mysterio, he’s probably the most over…
How did that Canadian Bret Hart get over? Why do Americans pay to see Jackie Chan if he’s not American and they can’t relate to him? If Russo thinks America is 100% full of “Americans,” then he is 100% full of shit. But you knew that. Maybe Americans just want to watch people who can entertain them, regardless of ethnicity?
Russo: Yeah, maybe Konnan too, I’ll give you that, but the whole deal with them is, two things, first of all Mysterio, he’s over because of his size. It’s amazing that he can compete in this sport. And Konnan isn’t a Mexican-Mexican, he can speak English, he’s from the streets, he’s a totally different character.
Imagine that, someone saying Rey is over because of his size. Can you imagine Rey growing up in school, with people telling him, “Wow, look how SMALL you are! You should be a wrestler!”
Maybe Rey Jr got over because he put on entertaining matches? And why is Miller talking about Konnan? Russo is so mind-boggling with his insight. “He isn’t Mexican-Mexican, he can speak English.” What an ass!! So I guess fans can’t relate to Mexicans… unless they’re small or speak English. Am I the only one who finds his thought process so incredibly f*cked up and a recipe for disaster?
RUSSO: … and I’m going to say this, and Meltzer and Keller will go through the roof – winning and losing does not mean shit anymore.
Yeah that’s why my casual-fan cousin called me and said RVD used to be cool, until he started losing on TV and then said he was weak. That’s why the Hardys have gotten weak pops ever since HHH squashed Jeff a year ago. Russo is so full of it. If no one cares about winning and losing, people stop watching. And your titles mean jack shit. People watch sports because they want to know who is going to win or lose. They also enjoy the game, of course. But winning and losing, CLEANLY, is the natural result fans demand. If you don’t believe that, then you haven’t studied wrestling history.
Clean finishes turned around All Japan’s business over a decade ago. Oh that’s right, Russo doesn’t care about anything in Japan because he doesn’t give a shit.
Russo: Basically, the non-finishes and stuff like that you see is just to help us to … character development and to move storylines forwards.
No, what it does is tell fans that it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, so why watch? And they’re not. This guy thinks false finishes will develop characters. Enough said. So much for studying All Japan and seeing how clean finishes turned their business around. Vader was an effective character for years based on that clean win over Sting at the ’92 Bash. Promoters will just never learn.
Russo: And you’ve got to understand too, something that all the critics, the Meltzers and the Kellers of the world, all the critics don’t understand, which nobody ever points out, which the boys are very, very thankful for – the more that the entertainment gets over in this business, the more that the boys are prolonging their career. The less bumps they have to take, which means the longer they’re going to stay in this business,and the more money they’re going to make.
So this means you can’t do clean finishes??
Russo: I don’t have to book Rock in a match, I’ll have Rock cut a promo this week. So this week, guess what, Rock doesn’t have to wrestle. But, like I said, rather than have to work … in one year – 52 television shows – rather than having to wrestle in 40 of those shows, maybe I wrestle in 30, and in 10 of them I cut a promo.
OK, I agree. But maybe use those interviews to get characters over. That might work better than your false finishes.
Miller: It’s interesting that you say that, because I talked with Dave Meltzer when I was doing a paper for a class I was taking on pro wrestling, and he said when he first talked to Vince McMahon in 1991, McMahon told him that [he] was going to ruin the business by giving it away and people are going to hate it. But one of the things that he said, and I hope you comment on this, is that by having fans in the know, it makes them deeper fans, and much more likely to stay fans of wrestling for longer, do you think that’s true?
What I wouldn’t give to read that paper Miller wrote. What McMahon told Meltzer was BS, and what Meltzer said is correct. However, with an audience full of fans who know the behind the scenes stuff, it would require a major change in booking philosophy. That’s a whole separate topic.
Russo: I’m not writing television for kids. The thing that people don’t understand is that USA made the decision to move Raw to 9-11. As soon as USA moved that show from 9 o’clock to 11 o’clock, well then the rules had to change. Because what we had to look at is who’s watching television from 9 to 11 o’clock at night, because that was our audience.
I think we all know there were a significant percentage of kids watching Raw in that time slot. Anyone who denies that is simply lying.
I’m not going to go into this kick about kids and wrestling. I will say that I grew up watching late 80s WWF and NWA. There were “Faggot” chants, swearing at house shows, anti-gay characters, and anti-foreign characters. I just happened to be smart enough to not let it affect me. If I can do it, so can other kids.
Russo: I’ll tell you this, I was the one (I remember the conversation) that told The Rock the first time to go out there and refer to himself in the third person. I remember the promo like it was yesterday. I was like start calling yourself The Rock – this and The Rock – that, and refer to yourself as The Rock, because my only concern was Don Muraco. I figured it was a long time ago and people will forget it; so it was really my idea to say refer to yourself as The Rock.
That was indeed a very good idea. Unfortunately it was Jim Ross’s idea, not yours.
Everything negative I’ve ever said about Russo was proved valid based on his comments here. I’m more convinced than ever that if Russo has a lot of power in WWE, then they’re in for a several year-long slump of dead business. It really is sad, because unless someone else out there has a vision and money to back it up, the business we knew and loved will be dead in this country.